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Private Contractors are Nothing New

 article about Private Contractors are Nothing New

A week ago an article appeared in the New York Times titled, "The fourth branch of government: contractors." According to the article, "spending on federal contractors has soared during the Bush administration . . . fueled by the war in Iraq, domestic security and Hurricane Katrina." Private contractors hired by the federal government are nothing new.


Private contractors were used during the removal of Native Americans from the southeast. In 1831 thirteen thousand Choctaws made the long, forced trek from their home in Mississippi to the arid prairies of the mid-west. Howard Zinn said, in his book, A People's History of the United States:


The army was supposed to organize their trek, but it turned over its job to private contractors who charged the government as much as possible, gave the Indians as little as possible. Everything was disorganized. Food disappeared. Hunger came.


When the Creeks of Alabama made their forced trek to the same arid lands, private contractors were again used. Zinn writes of their trek:


Private contracts were made for the march, the same kind that had failed for the Choctaws. Again, [there were] delays and lack of food, shelter, clothing, blankets, medical attention. Again, old rotting steamboats and ferries, crowded beyond capacity, taking them across the Mississippi.


Creek warriors who had been seduced to fight against the Seminoles of Florida in exchange for being able to stay on their land in Alabama were instead forced westward. The warriors and their families were herded on an old steamship called Monmouth. Zinn cites a New Orleans newspaper account of the time:


The fearful responsibility for this vast sacrifice of human life rests on the contractors…The avaricious disposition to increase the profits on the speculation first induced the chartering of rotten, old, and unseaworthy boats, because they were of a class to be procured cheaply; and then to make those increased profits still larger, the Indians were packed upon those crazy vessels in such crowds that not the slightest regard seems to have been paid to their safety, comfort or even decency.


Flash forward to the present. Private contractors are used more now than ever. According to the New York Times article the "most successful" contracts are given not to "those doing the best work" but to those who have the right connections within the Bush administration. Although it has not been widely reported in the mainstream media, FEMA outsourced hurricane preparation and evacuation in New Orleans to a private company, in other words a private contractor.


Just as thousands of Native Americans died because of private contractors, to say nothing of the inequity of their forced removals, many died after the levees broke in New Orleans. Now, as it was then, money is more important than human lives. As the New Testament states, "The love of money is the root of all evil."



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